The European Commission is keen to show that it is on the side of the European consumer.
Earlier this month, it published a vision for the next five years in the form of a New Consumer Agenda which seeks to address the old challenges along with the new.
The EU will shortly adopt a Directive on Representative Actions to enable collective consumer redress to be initiated across the EU-27 as a response to “Dieselgate” whose impact was felt across the continent and beyond. This will bring it closer in line with more stringent national rules, including those in the UK.
The Commission expresses concern about the increase in consumer vulnerability during Covid-19, particularly in relation to household finances. The review of the Consumer Credit Directive is therefore timely in this respect.
We can anticipate that the Commission’s proposal due out in May 2021 will include provisions for lenders to signpost borrowers in financial difficulty to debt advisers, already common practice in the UK credit market.
Brussels believes it can add value to the green and digital transformations taking place. The Commission’s green agenda is extensive, ranging from more sustainable food production to improving product durability and making all packaging reusable and recyclable.
It will be interesting to see if the UK draws on any of these measures now that it is outside the bloc. One of the targets is “green-washing”, the practice where a business falsely professes to be environmentally-friendly. The Commission will therefore push for better customer information so that claims can be substantiated.
The Commission recognises the dangers that online activity presents to consumers. It will therefore review its guidance in relation to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and the Consumer Rights Directive, to determine whether additional legislation or other action will be needed in the medium-term in order to balance online and offline protection. The advent of AI represents an opportunity but also has scope to harm consumers.
European rules will therefore be brought forward to manage this. Other consumer-friendly measures are likely to include a further clamp down on ‘geo-blocking’ which prevents users accessing some digital services, such as pay-TV channels, across borders and bringing forward plans for a GDPR-compliant EU-wide public electronic identity to enable consumers to make more use of their personal data.
The von der Leyen Commission is keen to demonstrate the EU’s value to its 450 million citizens. This consumer crusade is at the heart of its strategy.
Edward Simpson is the Finance & Leasing Association’s head of government affairs